. The Argument: The Poet, with Dante and Virgil, has arrived on the third step of the StairWell, or Purgatory. Dante at the start of Canto 3 has been at pains to explain to the shocked Poet what just has happened on step 2. It has been an incredible, almost unbelievable encounter. Now they have forged forward and have had to fight through obstructions of ice. As finally, after considerable danger, they manoeuvre through, the Poet then encounters his ex-wife from over 40 years ago. There, burnished with gold that her soul so prized, The chair she sat on; and beside the gifts That we’d exchanged in love, but she had seized. Two rings, a bracelet---pure gold---other thefts Of lesser value, and there the amulet, Centre of all, which left me most bereft: Gold chain, with coffin figure, within set Ivory inlaid to fill its key-like core; Recalled to me what I’d tried to forget, I turned to Dante, if he could help more? Impassive, though, he stared straight through the queen, Seated, quite unaware his presence there; And Virgil---well---to him, what did it mean? ‘I rule here,’ she said. ‘And here my writ runs, For Midas grants me power which nothing screens: One touch of mine is deadlier than a gun; Flesh even turns to what I want, more gold! Why---’ Here she stood. ‘Once James, we two were fun; But look now---you are poor, ha! You are old! So let me touch, and ease your misery; Your value I’ll increase one hundred-fold!’ With that---her ominous first step towards me--- I tensed, treading backwards, in total fear, My wretched mind revolving desperately--- Like some wasp buzzing in a locked jam jar, Below it, perilous waters waiting patient--- And all I did not want looming so near. The StairWell proving some deceptive agent Delivering back to the Hell I had escaped But lately. Indeed, some abortifacient--- For if I failed now, what would be my state? Distracted by impending doom, I turned Only to see the white ivory inlaid Within the amulet, as in an urn, Sacred, devoted, as some congealed ash No fire destroyed, though thoroughly it burned. Her hand reached out and with its merest brush I too would be a brute inanimate, And all my hopes for heaven helpless, crushed. But in that space where time itself lacks state, As neither forward nor backwards to go, A knife-edge either way deciding fate, So there I was, the amulet a-glow, For why? What secret did ivory own--- Somehow to continue I had to know. ‘Hari,’ I blurted, ‘ivory’s real bone: That child we had together, you destroyed, His flesh and blood consumed, and his soul’s gone To heaven!’ I cried to God. “My dear boy!’ No more her peril vexed me or her touch--- Something had been lost money couldn’t buy, Or all the gold she’d stored in her greed’s pouch. And she---as ivory preoccupied My mind---too felt its memory, and blanched, Stalled in her tracks, remembered her boy, dead; One she’d forced down and out her crotch’s chute. ‘I don’t care, I don’t care,’ she said, and lied. For now, some tear---but one as black as soot--- Tried forming in the corner of her eye, But finding release from her flesh, could not. Held back, held onto, so how could she cry? Where was release? Within, a speck before Not visible, now half-crawled out, a fly Lodged on her duct, so well fed, dripping spores, Bloated, and like its mistress, simply stuck There: far too fat to leave, effect a cure. And yet, half out this way, wriggling---a crack Appeared in her countenance, as askew Eye saw the fly and memory brought back The clinic---killing---and the wrong she knew She’d done---dead child of whom I only dream, How in my heart my being longs for you! Yet, yet … she took your life before your name Was ever called---who are you? And what be? See us, me too, this golden waste of shame Around---deserts of her idolatry! But she, constricted, choked and rendered dumb, Could hardly move, much less attack, touch me. That fatal moment when God’s judgement comes, Which every human gets to at some point, Deciding whether they go up, slip down, And now, her eye blotted as by black paint, Disfigured as its fly expanded forth, She turned, staggered as one about to faint, But holding up until she felt support--- Grasping the amulet, pressing in my hand, Rendering back to me our dead child’s worth In ivory. And as she did I understood Or thought I did---she now hysterical, Yet silent as a block of hardest wood For nothing could come out, compressed withal; We both may, shocked, have stayed there till doom’s day; But short steps to the edge, that was all, As Dante herded, bid us not delay; The desert-ocean had its golden shore, A precipice on which last outcomes played. But what she did next, why, I wasn’t sure: Collapsing down as Crassus did, his throat To be the moat on which the Parthians poured Gold loved so much by him. Another note, However, sounded as of some release: A flapping, light, as if about to float, And not that hostile buzzing of disease Infecting her eye; I looked, and there, red Which black before, was struggling but to seize Its living back, which for so long had fled; So now in metamorphosis red changed, First black to red and then even that bled Away. At last, all had to be expunged. Around my knees she clung, began to wail, Her very eyes---liquefying squeezed sponges--- If that her tears so long held in her soul Might finally be free---but fluttering, I saw it, heard a new voice say it all: The fly---no longer one---now took to wing, A butterfly so beautiful, so light, So graceful, its sight induced in me song--- Charged and transported---I’d made paradise, At least in that moment. I wondered hard To see it soar so fragile, free in flight, But more still---a wonder I preferred: Below, gold altered so, its dust to brown With shoots of green, as if the conscience stirred Meant earth returned, reclaimed its own, And what was dead might incredibly live Through Him whose dying, death couldn’t keep down. Quiet, she stood beside me now. ‘Forgive,’ At last, she said, and what else could I do? ‘With all my heart,’ I said, ‘But I must leave.’ But now beside us, stood Dante, Virgil too, Standing as if awaiting some last act Which I’d commission though what, I didn’t know. Ahead, the ground her butterfly had raked With aerial beauty, now seemed fertile soil, Living and moist, half solid and half lake. My palm felt warm: in it, about to sail, I felt the amulet expanding fast Eager to launch and be free of its gaol. I knew then what to do: one motion cast The gold away and ivory in it. See, how it flashed in flight, and fell at last Into the lake-land’s alive, living pit, Wherein, not sinking, but like a small boat Held up, and following with innate wit Her butterfly on its long, distant float. How tiny---ivory in such a big sea, But even so it seemed bigger, full of hope: Indeed, as I strained my eyes, tried to see More, yes, becoming clear, expanding, there The gold dissolving, but not ivory--- I saw its shape take form, taking in air, Enlarging as if new breathing began--- And in my heart of hearts I found a prayer, A blessing: I was seeing my lost son, Whom she had killed, adrift, and in pursuit Of where his mother’s butterfly would land. I waved---like some lost soul’s desperate salute; Perhaps his eyes were formed and he’d respond--- Or lips cry, ‘Father’! But his lips were mute. As slowly the ivory confined went beyond My vision, I felt my being shut down, Go quiet, struggling so to understand--- My breath to hardly breathe, or heart to pound. Yet all the while, as sight became a speck On the cruel world’s vast and receding round, I saw the body form: its head from neck, Limbs shaping outwards in perfect legs, arms; I sensed his blood even, suffuse his cheeks; And as I did my inner self went calm. I turned, full knowing I’d not see again My precious boy; yet now what was, was balm. Heroic child, though you were never born, Like Herakles to the furthest western point To find Hesperides, fearless you’d gone; Over the horizon’s edge, the while each joint Of you reformed itself into the one I call, ‘My son’. You did not disappoint. She stood there, still crying, tears still not done; Till Dante touched her shoulder---so light, deft, I’m sure she barely felt; but change came on, As nakedness is altered once it’s dressed, As if the honey of his hands allowed Her emptiness to have some sweetness left. ‘Hari,’ I said, ‘You’ve cried. I too broke vows; And now our boy flies to the Western Isles Whom we may never see just once---God knows His living eyes. So let us without guile Forgive; commit to love our other child; At last then---’ here I choked---‘end this turmoil: Conclude today what our mad years made wild.’ She stood, she looked for all the world as lost, Drained---majesty void, divested, and grown old; Who’d think to grow so rich might end a cost? Had even Dante’s touch restored her soul? I sensed beside me Virgil anxious most To move on---we could not let Hari stall Our progress: other levels beckoned near, Already time ran out. I felt the pull Ahead. ‘Hari, listen---we’ve lost what’s dear--- Almost ourselves as well in what we did; I must go, climb further and leave you here, But you must not permit your pain be hid, Returning to those sterile, golden shores, Pretending Midas can be your true god. Your butterfly’s exposed that god’s lush flaws; Gird yourself, and prepare to follow him When grieving’s done and ego’s emptied, poor. She stirred then---tremulous, a sort of whimper. Finally, ‘Why bring me out of the womb? Why not be dead before I have a name? Why live where I can never be at home? Why knees receive me and why breasts to nurse? Why not in darkness stay than living roam? Perish the day my father blessed my birth And said, ‘O joy, to us a daughter’s born. No, rather, begetting, let him be cursed.’ With that she stopped, and teetered over, swooned. I caught her just in time. With Virgil’s help We laid her where fresh lilies lately grown Adorned a bank of solid earth, not pelf, All that was gone---a new world dawned; and she--- A beauty sleeping there---might come to health Once some angelic prince, but never me, Arrived and with one kiss her soul would start. But we’d no time to dither, destiny Must run its course. To see her broke my heart Thus on the ground. But Dante urged the way Before, and going meant we’d shed the hurt. So, one last time, I knelt just where she laid And gently kissed her forehead, and said, ‘Bless.’ At last some sort of peace between us made. Not looking back, but that last tenderness I treasured in my soul and more beside--- Where had he flown---my son---I could not guess? Onward, both Dante, Virgil with huge strides Pressed forward, as if leaving me behind, So dilatory I, and now the gulf so wide; I ran as one possessed, or out of mind, To catch them up, when round a sudden bend They disappeared, so ominous a sign: To lose my mentors and come to this end--- How would I fare without their wisdom, love? I raced with all the strength I had to mend How far apart we were---and reached the curve Where they’d gone round, but as I did stopped short, Amazed---before my eyes, rising above The whole landscape, stood a bridge, metal, taut, All shiny, surface smooth as polished steel--- Far side a building, political, fraught With all of thinking’s miscegenated ills: A school, to wit, where education deals. . . James Sale is a worldwide thought leader on motivation: he has had 4 books on the topic published by Routledge, and over 700 management consultants in 15 countries use his products. James is also a feature writer on culture for The Epoch Times. He has written poetry for over 50 years and has had 9 collections published. He won First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition and his next collection, The English Cantos Volume 1: HellWard is due shortly. For more on this, go to https://englishcantos.home.blog. He can be contacted at email@example.com.